Monday, January 30, 2012

Following Up On Heywood.

Heywood from Henderson here, cats and kittens, with the requested follow-up to the investigation into my egregious action of telling a student he was wrong.

My Dean gathered my "I told him he was wrong when he was wrong. Because he was wrong. I'm allowed to do that" answers to the questions the Dean had. Dean also showed me the actual written complaint.

The student stated that not only was his opinion not wrong, since opinions can't be wrong, but that my feedback was "belittling and bullying."

BULLYING. Being corrected is now considered being bullied among the snowflake set. And this isn't a traditional snowflake, no sir and/or madam - this student is a non-traditional student in his 40s, who works at an outside job that's pretty tough.

Cue long anguished discussion between the Dean and me, with my statements of "WTF? Where are the students getting this attitude that they can file complaints willy-nilly?" being met with the stone wall of "This is procedure. All student complaints are investigated."

Although I am vindicated (I can still correct students when they are wrong, yay me!), the bigger issues remain unaddressed.

Why is the teaching process considered bullying? At what point will students be told to cowboy up and participate in the learning process?

And can I get a raise for the increase in drinking this is going to cause?


  1. Although no one has filed a complaint (yet), I have noticed this dynamic more and more in the past year with a new cohort of students coming through my program.

    To be sure, students get things wrong from time to time. Many times the question is good, just a misunderstood point in the reading, an assumption that can not be supported etc. In the past I have corrected them and we moved on, sometimes with good discussion resulting from the question and the correction. It was a non-issue. That should be the process, right?

    This year if the situation comes up and I correct someone in class, the entire room falls silent and the vibe is very "thick". The students look at you like you just killed their kitten and the thing I hear most is that I told them they were wrong "right in front of everybody".

    One came up after class with an unrelated question and I asked, with sincere concern, if they were clear on the issue I had corrected earlier. Just like our friend, Heywood, I didn't call them an idiot, nor smirk, nor use a sarcastic tone, nor anything. He/she responded that they didn't wan't to talk about it because "I don't want to look more stupid than I already do".

    It would appear that any correcting of any kind erodes their "self-of-steam". Its unfortunate as they now seem loathe to ask (or answer) any questions which closes off what was a positive aspect of the classroom dynamic.

    I have taught for a long time and have always had a great rapport with my students. However, in the last year I have come to realize that, to them, I represent some sort of enemy. In their minds, I'm a little troll who goes home every night to my little spot under the bridge where I stay up all night (trolls never sleep) inventing even more evil and insidious ways to harm them, embarrass them, cheat them out of their rightful grade (big one!) etc.

    Is it me? The grey streaks in my hair? Have I changed? I wish I could understand.

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    1. "I don't want to look more stupid than I already do". Oh, Student Snowflake, that's hardly possible at this point...

      Someone please tell me why they're in college if they know everything already and are never wrong? A huge part of teaching is correcting mistakes and providing critiques, and if they can't take the heat, they should get the out of the Teapartying kitchen. Learning is a risky enterprise, and apparently they don't want to take ANY risks, especially intellectual ones. *Facepalm*

  3. It seems that anything can be construed as bullying or intimidating.

    In a service course I once taught, there was a student who became upset when it sunk into her head that I allowed each student to take one and only one textbook into an open-book mid-term exam. Guess who had to deal with a he-should-be-fired petition later on?

    I also had to deal with all manner of self-styled geniuses who thought I refused to acknowledge their talent and wizardry when I marked them wrong not because their answers were incorrect (which they sometimes were) but the methods by which they determined the solutions were complete nonsense. I'm sure some of them thought I was being a meanie for not recognizing their brilliance.

    Even worse was when, about 10 years ago, my department head and his sidekick threatened me with disciplinary action because I had my students address me as "Doctor". (I received my Ph. D. just over a year earlier.) According to those two, it "intimidated" those students because it made them feel inferior and, therefore, they wouldn't want to ask me any questions. Because of that, they wouldn't learn anything. Then again, they were of the opinion that the students should be allowed to call me whatever they wanted in order to create a "safe" learning environment.

    I quit a few months later. The place had become too nutty for me.

    By the way, many of the students who alleged that I bullied or intimidated them were quick to do the same to me if they didn't get the grades they felt they deserved. It was usually after their attempts at extortion (such as along the lines of "if I don't get xx% on this exam, I'll have you fired") didn't work that they played the victim and when whining to a higher authority about how mean and nasty I had been to them.

    Little wonder that my alcohol consumption went up while I was teaching.

  4. This is why: teachers are no longer needed. Experts are nothing compared to user-generated content.

    1. My university system is literally trying to replace as many of us as possible with textbook generated online materials. There is a program in place to do just this, in fact, so that one prof can manage 1,500 students at once. FML.

  5. Thanks for the update. There has to be some way to at least 'weed out' the complaints that are legit and the ones that are pure bullshit. I'm glad the case was at least "dropped," but what a waste of everyone's time and energy. I wonder how many hours are wasted on campus with things like this... I wasted an hour today listening to a student sob that she got 3/5 on a quiz and now her future is ruined and waaaaaaah. AND it wasn't even for MY class, but she wouldn't leave my office. Who ARE these sick people?

    1. I hate to see a grown person cry. So shove off, out of the office with you... ;-)

    2. One of my friends gave me a great tissue box cover that looks suspiciously like pedobear to use with crying students....

    3. I kept asking her to go to the Health/COunseling Center and even called them, but she would not leave. Isn't that harassment? Seriously?!!! :o) I want a tissue box cover that tells them to leave my office when they don't listen to me.

  6. Yes, we have learned many new variations of the bullying theme during our professional development sessions:

    1. Don't give pop quizzes. This makes students feel stupid and is bad for their self-esteem since they didn't know they should be prepared for class.

    2. Don't call on students unless they raise their hands. Picking students randomly singles them out and shows everyone else that they weren't prepared, which makes them feel stupid and is bad for their self-esteem since they didn't know they should be prepared for class.

    3. Don't correct students who give wrong answers in front of the class. Repeat last sentence from #s 1 and 2.

    4. Don't tell students they should seek out tutoring or come see you during office hour. Remember that pesky last sentence.

    5. If students ask questions that you've already answered in the syllabus or on a handout, don't redirect them to the appropriate written material so they can find the answer themselves. Again, that last sentence.

    6. Don't tell students that they are failing or advise them they should drop the class when they've done next to no work and there is no hope. Do I have to tell you about the last sentence one more time?

    Everything is supposed to be all positive all the time. That would be great, except that life isn't all positive all the time. Perhaps their parents told them that one day they'd all be riding magic unicorns to work, making six-figure salaries, and playing with puppies while rainbows and sunshine formed a majestic panorama outside their corner office windows. Unfortunately, that scenario has the chance of occurring only when strong hallucinogenics are involved, and we don't give those out as part of the curriculum.

    1. Trying not to look and sound stupid in front of everyone was the main reason I worked so hard as an undergraduate. I am of the belief that shame and guilt are effective motivating tools. If students don't want to look like they were unprepared, then maybe they should actually do the freaking work?

  7. I'd point out to your due process obsessed Dean that judges and courts throw out charges and cases and lawsuits all the time, without any further ado, because they are clearly not worth the effort to waste any more time dealing with.

  8. What gets me is how CHILDISH modern students can be. And the snowflake who inspired this story is old enough to known better, and have actual experience in the real world! He couldn't possibly pull crap like this with one of his bosses, and not keep his job, for just about any job in the world. What is it about being a student that brings this out in people?

  9. There should be a fine (or community service requirement) for filing frivolous complaints.

  10. The first time this happened to me was nearly 15 years ago. I was a graduate student and in the conversation that resulted with the chair of our department, I was told that I was "hostile" toward our students. Note the plural. Even though no evidence was presented, that was what I was told. I was also told that I was on very thin ice in my program because of this.

    My sin? Telling a student he was wrong. The class was examining a painting about one subject--say, kittens--and everyone agreed that the painting was about kittens.

    Everyone except the student who complained. Because he insisted the painting was about a different subject--say, rowboats. And I had the nerve to try to persuade him that the painting was in fact about kittens.

    I did everything I could in a teacherly way to get him to see that the painting was about kittens. I suggested that interpretation of texts depends largely on what we consider real or meaningful, communally. We agree as a culture that a kitten is a kitten and a rowboat is a rowboat. He shouted, "So, what you're saying is that the majority rules?"

    "Yes," I said. "Sometimes when it comes to making meaning, it does. That's why traffic lights are mostly effective. We know that 'red' means 'stop.'"

    He continued on his rowboat diatribe even though his classmates tried to get him to see the light, too. Finally I said, "Look, I wouldn't be doing my job if I let you walk out of here thinking that this painting, 'Springtime with Kittens,' is in any way about rowboats. Sometimes when we're learning about new things, we make mistakes."

    Then I said the thing that got me into a heap of trouble.

    "Sometimes, we're just wrong. In this case, you're wrong."

    The aftermath of this classroom experience scarred me. For years, I wasn't nearly as effective in the classroom as I could have been because I feared repercussions of complaining students. I wish I could say that how I was treated at this wretched place was an aberration, but I was treated poorly there ever after--and I know other graduate students from the same era experienced similar dressings-down over similar things, although none of us shared our experiences at the time, when they were happening.

    It's not a new phenomenon. It is, however, a growing one.

  11. I had several British professors in my undergrad years and they all were of the school that enjoys lighthearted mockery and insult as a way to, in theory, motivate students. I never minded it, but Lord, they couldn't get away with it today. I have a constant struggle with my students in Introduction to Cavy: no one wants to speak up because no one wants to make a mistake in front of the class (or even, perhaps, in front of me). Students complain when they are expected to speak up in class. The ultimate silliness of this is, to me, illustrated by the fact that Socrates would be out of a job within a few months of leading so many students into realizing just what they don't know.


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